Soda Warning Label: A Great Collaboration Between Health and Education

By Nativo Lopez

Few diseases impact our Latino community as much as diabetes.  Most of us know the real life challenges of the disease.  Most of us have watched loved ones suffering with complications like skin lesions and nerve damage, amputations and blindness and kidney failure. Most of us have buried too many family and friends.

My own mother has been ravaged by the insidious disease of diabetes for the past twenty years, and currently suffers from a foot amputation.  My family eventually learned that all of this was avoidable, but it was too late for her.  The learning curve has been steep, and painful.

Diabetes is skyrocketing in Latino communities.  Diabetes rates have tripled in 30 years.  A study released last week showed that 43% of Latinos hospitalized in California have diabetes. Half of Latino children born in 2000 are expected to have diabetes sometime in their lives.  For the sake of our community, for the sake of our children, it is time to get the word out: diabetes is not inevitable, it is preventable.

It is also time to tell the truth about the role that soda and sugary drinks play in the epidemic.  With 16 teaspoons of sugar in every 20 ounces, our Cokes, Pepsis, horchatas, and Sunny Delights are the single largest source of sugar in our diets.  Even worse, unassailable scientific research has shown that liquid sugar – whether sucrose or high fructose corn syrup – is uniquely harmful because it gets absorbed so quickly into the blood stream, much faster than solid food.  When you absorb so much sugar so quickly it both wears out the pancreas and causes fatty liver disease, both of which lead directly to diabetes. Some research has even tied liquid sugar to dementia and Alzheimer’s.  These are scientific reality too few Californians know.

Senate Bill 1000, the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, is the first step toward raising awareness about the uniquely harmful effect of these products by providing consumers with this essential information.

The beverage industry has rallied its vendors, bottlers and merchants to try to kill the legislation.  They frame this public education effort as an attack on the private sector, insisting that our elected officials stand on the sidelines as more and more of our family members go to the hospital or into dialysis centers.

Industry opposition ignores one of the most fundamental purposes of our democracy – that we want the government to protect us from dangerous products – whether through automobile recalls, air quality warnings, or product safety warnings.  When science is this conclusive, our policy makers have a responsibility to act. That is what we elect them for.

Not surprisingly, the multinational soft drink companies are tapping deep into their corporate coffers to protect their image.  Yet no matter how much they spend on sophisticated marketing telling us that their sugary products make us happy – Vive Hoy (Pepsi) and Open Happiness (Coke)—and no matter how much they spend on expensive lobbyists in Sacramento, they can’t run away from the truth about the harms caused by their sugary beverages.

For our children this is especially concerning, since 73 percent of Latino teens consume a sugary drink or more per day.  If so many teens are putting that much liquid sugar into their veins, maybe it should not be a surprise that 23% of U.S. teens have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

While consumers may know that these products are not good for them, very few have any idea just how sick these sugary drinks are making us. In simple direct language SB 1000 will provide that education, placing a simple warning on the front of every can or bottle: STATE OF CALIFORNIA SAFETY WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.

Latinos recognize the need for this legislation. In a statewide poll conducted earlier this year, 74% of voters support putting warning labels on sugary drinks. Among Latinos, support is 86%. Our community knows better than most the impact of diabetes and is demanding action. What more do legislators who represent their constituents need to know?

While soda companies would like to make this about government versus business, the reality is this is about our right to know. SB 1000 provides us with the information we need to make smart decisions for our families. Whether we continue to buy these products is our right, but at the very least we should know about the risks they pose to our children and us. How many more Latinos need to have limbs amputated and die unnecessarily before we tell the truth about soda and liquid sugar?

 

Nativo Lopez is a long time community, immigrant and civil rights activist from Southern California. This opinion was written on behalf of the Mexican American Political Association and Hermandad Mexicana.

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May 22, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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